Priddis loses, but sticks to his guns

26 July 2007

by Simon Sarmiento

No regrets: Bishop Priddis

No regrets: Bishop Priddis

THE Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, continued to insist that he had made the right decision, after an employment tribunal last week issued its judgment in the case brought against the Hereford diocesan board of finance by John Reaney (News, 20 April).

Mr Reaney succeeded in his claim that, in failing to appoint him to the post of youth worker, Bishop Priddis and the Hereford diocese had discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation.

The decision followed three days of public hearings in Cardiff during April. The tribunal found that the actions taken by the Bishop had constituted unlawful direct discrimination under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. An additional charge of harassment was dismissed.

In rejecting Mr Reaney, who had stated on his application form that he was a homosexual, the Bishop was, in the tribunal’s view, doing so because of Mr Reaney’s sexual orientation, and was not (as the Bishop claimed) applying the same criteria as he would have used for a heterosexual candidate. Crucially, the Bishop had not accepted Mr Reaney’s assurance that he would continue to live in accordance with C of E teaching.

The “religious exemption” that might otherwise have been claimed did not apply in this case. This was because the tribunal held that Mr Reaney was in fact living in accordance with the church policy that the Bishop required, and it was not reasonable for the Bishop to be unsatisfied that this was so.

Talking to the Church Times last week, the Bishop said that he had consulted the diocesan registrar on four separate occasions during the course of the recruitment, and believed he had followed the advice given. He was therefore surprised at the tribunal’s judgment, which, he said, was puzzling and in some ways inconsistent. A particular concern to him was that it felt able to override his own pastoral judgement, based on 35 years’ experience.

He awaited further advice from the lawyers on whether to appeal, but he also needed them to advise on changes to diocesan procedures to avoid future problems. “I am disappointed that the judgment spends so much time focusing on the 1991 House of Bishops teaching document Issues in Human Sexuality, and so little on the more important decision of General Synod in 1987.”

The Bishop insisted that in rejecting Mr Reaney he was upholding the 1987 teaching of the General Synod that “holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders,” which was not limited to the clergy.

The Archbishops’ Council issued a brief statement that noted: “The broader issue raised by this case is whether there are posts, including some non-clergy posts, where the religious exemptions permitted under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations can properly be applied by bishops and dioceses. The tribunal has helpfully confirmed that there are.”

John Reaney said, in a statement issued by his solicitors: “I am pleased that the tribunal agrees that I have suffered discrimination and that I was right to bring my claim. I thank them for their decision. As a committed Christian, I did not bring this claim lightly, and remain sad that the Bishop acted in this way. All I ever wanted to do was to continue to use my skills in youth work for the diocese and the Church.”

The next step is to set a date for a remedy hearing, to determine what financial compensation should be paid to Mr Reaney, or whether any other actions should be required of the employer.

Comment, here and here

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